tried my hand at nonfiction

we are the khalsa

The hotel room door closes softly behind me. I flip on the hallway light-- the bedroom is still quiet. I silently sway through the hallway, kicking off my brown shoes and unbuckling my belt as he goes. I stop in front of the closet and unbutton the top button of my dark blue jeans and unzip my coffee-colored sweatshirt. I flash a look in the mirror-- my clean white pagari, once tightly wrapped around his head, now loose and off-center, long hairs crawling down the nape of my neck and sprouting from my temples, down to my now frizzy beard, encircling his face. My glasses have fallen to the bottom of my nose, my vision pointing my eyes down and head up, a mustache creeping onto my upper lip. I inhale.

I am in Budapest. I've come here on an impromptu family vacation-- my father told me on Sunday that we will leave Wednesday, arrive Thursday, and return Monday. Two weeks ago, I returned from studying in Berlin, where I met a Hungarian girl named Eszter Magyar. She is my tour guide on this voyage; it is Friday night now and we’ve just finished dinner at a place with a pianist that plays songs like “New York, New York” and “New York State of Mind”. Eszter thinks its funny; I, from New York, find myself waking up at the New York Palace in the morning, passing by a street demonstration of “Give My Regards to Broadway” in the afternoon, and this pianist in the evening,-- makes a joke: “New York, the capital of the universe”. I can't tell if she's joking. Dinner ends and we are joined by a friend of hers, Bogi. They take me to Corvin Tatu, a communist department store turned nightclub. I grab a drink as we climb the stairs to the roof and sit by the skyline-- I point out an illuminated spire in the distance, blue, looking over the city, asking if it's Saint Istvan's Cathedral. Eszter tells me it's my hotel, New York looming over Budapest. It's past midnight when we head to a club on Margaret's Island; the two girls know it well. We enter and meet the club owner, Bogi's friend, who insists that we not pay for drinks, and toasts New York. I start to choke but hold it in-- Unicum, tastes like Jaegermeister imbued with rotten fruit. It's still coating the inside of my mouth when Thriller comes on (Michael Jackson has just died!) and the girls tell me they want to dance. I take two steps and feel a large rough hand clench my shoulder from behind, turning me to the face of a drunk unshaven Hungarian man. With a grimace and a fist ready, he asks, “Do you know what day it is?”

It is 1:00 A.M, the first time I've spent this day away from New York. Every year, school has already begun and I am in the middle of Staples runs for supplies; the day goes by in a cloud of anticipation, a long wait for a phone call. Eight years ago-- I was 10 years old and in the 6th grade. I remember the call to my science teacher. I remember when she began to cry, when some kids were called out of class to the main office. They never told us what happened, just sent us off on the bus like any other day. I remember the bus ride home, getting off and coming into my front door. It was unlocked. I remember walking into the kitchen and seeing the TV replaying the attack over and over. I remember just one image-- the towers gone but a phantom of where they were, a Goliath of smoke and rubble collapsing over the city. Everything changed for us then.

Since then, turbans became associated with terrorism. The random searches don't seem so random anymore, meeting the “male assist!” is usually how I end my security check-in, but they're usually friendly. We'll talk about my religion, sometimes baseball, and where they're from.

Fear swirled around the Tri-State Sikh community when the violence began: a Sikh in New Jersey, dragged to death on the back of a vehicle for a mile. My mother went on chalia, a practice where she ate no meat and went to the Gurudwara (local parish) every day to pray for the safety of our family and the people around us. In the summer of 2007, I am studying at Oxford when I hear that my brother has been hurt-- he was studying abroad in the Czech Republic through NYU. It took place in an alleyway in Prague: three drunk Czech men yelling “TERRORIST!” He escapes, and the first thing he does is fly home. My sister tells me the story when he's on his flight there-- he flew home to make sure he didn't have Hepatitis. I chuckle, thinking that he really is a true son of my mother, the infectious disease specialist. This alleyway crosses my mind when I realize that I am in the nation next door. “Yeah, I'm from Long Island, I saw the smoke from outside my neighborhood. It was a tragedy.”

He doesn't seem to understand. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he says with a thick accent.

There is a moment of peace now, his hand still clenching my shoulder and face twisted, my brow starting to crush inward. Suddenly, Eszter and her friend are between us, back to me, yelling in rapid Hungarian to our aggressor. He is taken off-guard-- Eszter is thin, blonde, blue-eyed, and angry, and her friend can't weigh more than a hundred pounds. From what I can gather, they are educating him on my religion and “his ignorance.” Ten minutes of yelling pass before we leave him at the bar. Eszter says he is an ignorant Hungarian. He'll never learn, and she is sorry on his behalf. I don't blame him necessarily-- I saw no other Sikhs in Budapest. But I wonder why he is so passionate. Maybe he was there that day, maybe he's never been to New York and never will be. I'll never know, Eszter refuses to translate.

We return to the dance floor. A few songs pass, Eszter smiles broadly at my poor dancing while Bogi rolls her eyes, flashes of cold blue eye contact, and a pale good looking man approaches us nervously. He's the drunk Hungarian's employee, sent on a mission to retrieve me for further conversation. Eszter tells him off but he refuses to leave. After a few attempts at getting him to start dancing with us, I instruct him quietly to go back and wait. I tell Eszter I'm going to get another drink, and I feel her glare at my back. I don't know why I went back to the bar, maybe it was the liquor, maybe I just wanted to know what he said to Eszter and Bogi. I arrive and he faces me, shouting over the music at me in broken English:
“Where the two ugly *****s you with earlier?”

“**** you.”

“I’ll kill them.”
I move in closer, face to face, when Eszter gets in between us and grabs my hand, she says they want to leave -- they have to catch the night bus.

We've just left the club on our way to the station when I start to laugh. It's not the first time someone's threatened to kill “my” women. The first time is in Amsterdam, a summer ago, walking back from a coffee shop with Shreya, Naina, Jimmy, and Marc when I am approached by a short, thin, ragged Indian man. He says, “Sardarhji! Sardarhji! (a respectful term for Sikh men) Sat sri akal, meri Bhai (Hello, my brother!) ! Please, can you spare some money? I need help.” I refuse and we walk past; I have nothing on me and he's full of shit. He shouts after us in a thick Indian accent, “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE MY BROTHER! **** YOU!” then starting to walk after us, “**** YOU! I'LL KILL YOUR WOMEN! **** YOU!” We hit our Manhattan stride (mine is no good) and laugh our way back to the hostel.

We've just arrived at the platform when Eszter and Bogi part ways with me-- they're going to Buda, and I, Pest. I manage to grab the last seat; I don't have a transportation ticket but I don't think anyone's checking. I peer past the thin, pale brunette at the window and watch the city go by. It's quiet, much darker than New York, the Parliament Building's giant green dome as we go over Margit Hid, and I catch the man sitting across from me staring at me. I inhale, turning slowly. Everyone on the bus is staring at me.

“The turban is our Guru's gift to us. It is how we crown ourselves as the Singhs and Kaurs who sit on the throne of commitment to our own higher consciousness. For men and women alike, this projective identity conveys royalty, grace, and uniqueness. It is a signal to others that we live in the image of Infinity and are dedicated to serving all. The turban doesn't represent anything except complete commitment. When you choose to stand out by tying your turban, you stand fearlessly as one single person standing out from six billion people. It is a most outstanding act.” Today, their eyes are tense. My pagari is a beacon screaming danger, its meaning now corrupted. No pleasant curiosity, simply idle conversation and a locked stare. I cannot hide--

But I will not take off my pagari. I will not cut my hair. Sometimes, there are nightmares; I am subdued, arms pulled roughly behind my back, my head pushed down, my hair pulled from behind, a knife at the nape of my neck, cutting, cutting, cutting, the break. My head lurching forward to the pavement, the next day, a look in the mirror, the confusion, and my pagari-- skin but no bones, an empty corpse. I am no longer who I was, and I wake up.

I am _______. I was named after Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of Sikhism, the only man to martyr for another religion: Hinduism. He was decapitated after watching his two guards be burnt alive in hot sand. His son and final human guru (before the designation of the Guru Granth Sahib as our holy book), Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa; that is when the Sikhs stopped cutting their hair and wore the pagari. With them, I am beautiful.

rest in next message
Last edited by punchupatatigge at Dec 22, 2009,
I exit the train at Blaha Lujza Ter and pause on the platform. I see the spire of the New York Palace to the right, and pause for a moment. I go left. It's 3:00 a.m. and I am lost, on some street I can't begin to pronounce. Occasionally, a couple stumbles by, crossing the street sometimes. For a few minutes though, there's no one at all. The streets are quiet and the air is cool and the sidewalks are still. The buildings are old and beautiful and rugged weather. It's incredible-- with no one staring, I am part of the cracking walls, the new windows, the cold pavement, and my pagari, normal. I am in Pest, walking on a street that thousands of people walk every day, but no curious eyes, no uneasy glare, no whisper to the man next to her, no little children stopping and watching me go by; I am alone. I stop. I breathe in, eyes closed, and breathe out. I don't know where I am, I don't care.

My phone rings and it's Eszter-- she wants to know if I made it home. A few minutes later, I see Kiraly utca, the Jewish District, just a few blocks from the hotel. I take the elevator up to the fourth floor. I swipe the card in the door.

I exhale, my hands moving up to grasp my pagari, gently lifting-- a quick inhale, a surge of air rushing into my hair, long hairs crashing down my neck and around my ears the rest wrapped tightly at the top of my head with rubber bands, a long, luxurious luxurious exhale. My father stirs, flips on the bedside lamp. “Teghvir?” He asks me where I've been, and I tell him the story of the drunk Hungarian. He berates me for confronting him. I tell him that I don't see the problem in a little fighting, a little tension. Then, he says what he's always said; there's no point in fighting them, don't take it seriously, it's not worth it. He flips off the bedside light. I quietly remove my jeans and button down, and tiptoe to bed. I lay down, pull the covers over my chest, and now I'm thinking that it's still 11 P.M. in New York. I close my eyes – flashes of an impending phone call, frantic, in a dreamless sleep.
I've hardly been able to read average length poems on here for the past month, but your stuff always holds me. I really enjoyed it; what can I say? I love travel writing and you're pretty damned good at it.

There are a few instances where you put something in a sentence (for example where you say 'the Parliament Building's giant green dome as we go over Margit Hid') without introducing it. I also think that in the first paragraph you could cut down on the description a bit, eg. getting rid of some of the colours in 'brown shoes', 'dark blue jeans' and 'coffee-coloured sweatshirt'. But they're the only things I didn't enjoy. It's really good.
There's only one thing we can do to thwart the plot of these albino shape-shifting lizard BITCHES!